Zenith comprises three cities. At the outskirts is Floral Heights, a streetcar suburb of Dutch colonial houses three miles from downtown. Central Zenith, a commercial-retail focus of fireproof ten- to thirty-five-story office towers of Indiana limestone or yellow brick and stores selling everything from dictaphones to scarves, hums with speculative prosperity. On suburb and downtown Sinclair Lewis focuses almost all of the action of his 1922 novel Babbitt. But between Floral Heights and Babbitt's high-rise real estate office is a third city, an industrial zone Lewis calls South Zenith, although it encircles the city center. South Zenith is “a high-colored, banging, exciting region: new factories of hollow tile with gigantic wire-glass windows, surly old red-brick factories stained with tar, high-perched water tanks, big red trucks like locomotives, and, on a score of hectic side-tracks, far-wandering freight-cars from the New York Central and apple orchards, the Great Northern and wheat-plateaus, the Southern Pacific and orange groves.” It is a place of foundries, automobile factories, shops where five thousand men work under one roof, a place threaded with high-speed railroads.
However much reviewers argued about the character of Babbitt and his lifestyle, philosophy, and usefulness as a “type,” few questioned the setting of the novel. Indeed, newspapers in five cities, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Duluth, and Minneapolis, each proclaimed that its municipality was the prototype of Zenith, and Minneapolis actually celebrated a “Babbitt Week.”